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Samsung Series 9 (900X3A) review: Samsung Series 9 (900X3A)

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If you've lusted after a MacBook Air, but just can't bring yourself to make the switch to OS X, Samsung hopes to have you salivating over its Series 9 laptop.

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Samsung Series 9 (900X3A)

The Good

Gorgeous design; Smooth performance; Long battery life; Ace screen and keyboard.

The Bad

You may have to take the kids out of private school to afford it.

The Bottom Line

It's hugely expensive, so it's obviously not going to appeal to everyone. But if you've been lusting after a Windows alternative to the MacBook Air, the series 9 has both the lust factor and performance to warrant the high asking price.

The company has taken advantage of Intel's latest low voltage Sandy Bridge chip to come up with a 13.3-inch laptop that's slimmer than a giraffe on her wedding day. Such premium design comes with a premium price tag, however, as the 900X3A (as it's officially known) will set you back somewhere in the high-altitude region of £1,300.

Because you're gorgeous

Desire doesn't begin to describe the feeling you get when you first clap eyes on the series 9 -- it's more like all-out yearning. This laptop really is a thing of beauty. Forget the angular Dell Adamo and the not quite slim enough MSI X340; the Series 9 is the only laptop we've seen that can hold a candle to the MacBook Air.

The chassis is supremely slim, measuring an incredible 16.3mm at its thickest point, but it's also the attention to detail that impresses. Beautiful touches, such as the way the chrome-tipped edges swoop in a wave shape around the screen hinge, really do add that extra element of class.

Unlike the Air, which is hewn entirely from aluminium, the Series 9 is made from a combination of metal and glossy plastic and unfortunately the glossy plastic on the keyboard surround and display bezel are a magnet for finger prints.

Perhaps surprisingly, the 13.3-inch display has a matte rather than glossy coating. This is a fair indicator that Samsung sees the laptop being used for serious work rather than just playtime. The finish does help to cut down on reflections and unlike many of these types of screen, colour still looks amazingly punchy and the viewing angles are superb too.

As with most of Samsung's recent ultraportables, the company has opted for an isolated keyboard design. That's fine in our book, because the keys are well spaced and feel very snappy under your fingers. Cleverly there's also a light sensor that automatically turns on the keyboard's backlight when it detects that the light levels have dropped low.

The touchpad is very different to those that you find on most ultraportables and has obviously been heavily influenced by Apple's approach. There are no buttons for the pad. Instead the whole pad acts as one big button. To right click you press with a single finger, to left click you press with two fingers. It takes a little getting used to, but once you've got the hang of it it's a very effective system. Naturally the touchpad also responds to multi-touch gestures so you can pinch to zoom and slide two fingers across it to move through documents.

Thinputs

Given the slim dimensions there's not all that much room for inputs, and as a result Samsung has mounted them on small pull-down tabs on the left and right edges. This has allowed it to squeeze in two USB ports (one of which is USB 3.0) along with a mini-HDMI port and a microSD card reader. There's no room for a full Ethernet port, so instead you have to make this connection via a small adaptor cable.

The ports are mounted on slip-down tabs found on either side of the laptop.

Despite the lightweight chassis, when it comes to specification the Series 9 packs a heavyweight punch. Number-crunching prowess comes courtesy of a second-generation, low-voltage Intel core i5 processor that's clocked at 1.4GHz. Samsung has given this 4GB of RAM to play with and rather than opting for a traditional hard drive, it uses a 128GB SSD instead. That does limit the available storage, but it has battery life benefits, as we'll see later.

This type of laptop is obviously designed to be as portable as possible, rather than as powerful as possible, but taking into account its super-slim dimensions the performance was very good. In the PCMark05 benchmark it turned in a score of 7,418, making it one of the fastest ultraportables we've had in for test. It'll certainly run even more demanding apps without breaking a sweat.

The Series 9 relies on its Sandy Bridge chip's integrated graphics to chuck pixels around. This is faster than previous Intel integrated graphics solutions and posted a score of 2,835 in 3DMark06. That's not too shabby, but not quite powerful enough for serious gaming.

One thing you definitely want from this type of laptop is good battery life, and thankfully the Series 9 doesn't disappoint. Our Battery Eater test simulated worst-case battery life by running the processor at full tilt until the battery finally gave in. The Series 9 lasted for 2 hours and 40 minutes, which puts it up there with the very best ultraportables.

Conclusion

Ultimately it's difficult not to love for the Series 9. It uses the latest Intel processor technology, is supremely thin and light and has great battery life. If you were looking for a Windows alternative to the MacBook Air, then the Series 9 certainly fits the bill.

Edited by Nick Hide